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Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Could a brain scan diagnose you as a psychopath?

A US neuroscientist claims he has found evidence of psychopathy in his own brain activity

By Chris Chamber
The Guardian
Originally published November 25, 2013

Here is an excerpt:

This isn’t the first time we’ve heard from Fallon. In addition to the fact that his claims haven't been published in peer-reviewed journals, here are three reasons why we should take what he says with a handful of salt.

One of the most obvious mistakes in Fallon’s reasoning is called the fallacy of reverse inference. His argument goes like this: areas of the brain called the ventromedial prefrontal cortex and orbitofrontal cortex are important for empathy and moral reasoning. At the same time, empathy and moral reasoning are lost or impaired in many psychopaths. So, people who show reduced activity in these regions must be psychopaths.

The flaw with this argument – as Fallon himself must know – is that there is no one-to-one mapping between activity in a given brain region and complex abilities such as empathy. There is no empathy region and there is no psychopath switch. If you think of the brain as a toolkit, these parts of the brain aren’t like hammers or screwdrivers that perform only one task. They’re more like Swiss army knives that have evolved to support a range of different abilities. And just as a Swiss army knife isn’t only a bottle opener, the ventromedial prefrontal cortex isn’t only associated with empathy and moral judgements. It is also involved in decision-making, sensitivity to reward, memory, and predicting the future.

The entire article is here.
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